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Fanny MENDELSSOHN-HENSEL (1805-1847)
Piano works
Allegro molto in C minor [3:25]; Nocturne in G minor [4:43]; Piano Sonata in C minor [13:47]; Lied in E flat [7:08]; Piano Sonata in G minor [17:42]; Adagio in E flat [3:50]; Andante con moto in E [5:44]; Sonata o Capriccio [7:01]; Allegro molto agitato in D minor [1:45]; Schluss [2:13]
Heather Schmidt (piano)
rec. 5-6 November, 2007, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Canada
NAXOS DIGITAL 8.570825
[67:18]
Experience Classicsonline


Although today we know Fanny Mendelssohn primarily because she was the sister of the legendary composer Felix, the digital era in recordings has prompted eager musicians to supply us with a few bits and pieces from Fanny’s own considerable stock of excellent compositions. We have had two major discs of her works for solo piano before – one on BIS, with Beatrice Rauch, and the other on Centaur, featuring Betty Ann Miller.
 

This new Naxos Digital release, performed by Heather Schmidt and available for downloading at Classicsonline, adds world premiere recordings of several works and serves admirably as an introduction to Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano music – or, indeed, to her style as a whole. Newcomers to this composer will do well to start here, and those already familiar with her wonderfully poetic music will appreciate the new entry as well. 

Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano works are every bit as worthy as the piano music of brother Felix, and if you enjoy the works of Robert (or Clara) Schumann and perhaps even Schubert and Chopin, you will find this album a delightful surprise. Fanny Mendelssohn’s music is very well-crafted, melodically appealing, and possessed of remarkable self-confidence. There are salon miniatures here which are often very tender in mood – such as the beautiful Lied in E flat, or the evocative two-minute “Schluss” written when the composer was just eighteen years old – and there are also two formal sonatas and several shorter works which are quite technically demanding. If the attempts at a more serious vein seem less authentic than the quieter, more heartfelt moments, the results are always endearing. 

For the most part, the mood is one akin to the musical poetry we find in Felix’s Songs Without Words. Indeed, the only obvious advantage Felix had over his sister here is in giving his music names: Fanny’s “Andante con Moto in E major” has all the lyricism and beauty of the Songs Without Words, but the title is not nearly as appealing. Even the two sonatas are prone to poetic tune-spinning; if the opening movement of the G minor is a bit too dramatic for its own good, the finale is an extraordinary delight, and I imagine it is a joy to play as well. 

The music here ranges from the composer’s teenage years – the final three tracks were written before she turned twenty – to the year before her untimely death at the age of forty-one. On my first listen, however, I ignored the booklet notes and simply played the album straight through. I doubt many listeners will be able to distinguish the work of a teenager from that of a mature adult with decades of experience; Fanny Mendelssohn, like her more famous brother, seems to have been born with not just an expressive gift but the confidence and maturity to share it fully from a very early age. It is a pity that she was never able to reach the public fame of her brother – but at least today we can be glad to have recordings like this. 

Though I do not know the competing Centaur and BIS discs, I do see that there is very little overlap in repertoire: Rauchs on BIS performs the G minor sonata and the Andante con Moto in E, and Miller on Centaur offers an alternative to the C minor sonata and the Nocturne, but that leaves six (mostly short) works which are entirely new on this recording by Heather Schmidt. Fanny Mendelssohn aficionados, then, if there are that many, should not hesitate in picking up this new album regardless of any overlap it may cause. 

Unfortunately I cannot find any biographical information on the pianist, Heather Schmidt. Naxos does not supply any details of her career in their digital approximation of liner notes, and Schmidt’s startlingly unhelpful website contains a single photograph, a few sound samples of her own compositions, and no text at all. She deserves better: these are very good performances indeed, technically assured in the more challenging works and marvellously poetic everywhere. Schmidt is as close to an ideal interpreter of Fanny Mendelssohn that we are likely to get, and the music itself is so wonderful that this disc recommends itself. Anyone interested in the musical poetry of brother Felix’s Songs Without Words, and any listener with a fondness for the intimacy of early romantic piano music, should investigate this recording without hesitation. 

As a part of the Naxos Digital imprint, this album is currently only available for download at the website Classicsonline, where it sells for rather less than the price of a physical compact disc.

Brian Reinhart






 


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